Sardis was located close to modern Salihli, and its name can still be recognized in the small village of Sart. Sardis was the famous and wealthy capital of the Roman province of Lydia and dates back to at least 3,000 BC. Herodotus describes the crucial role of the royal trade road between Sardis, that is located land inward, some 45 miles from Izmir, and the large cities Susa and Persepolis of the extended Persian empire. Remnants of the trade road can still be found.
The city was situated in the middle of the Hermus valley, at the foot of Mount Tmolus and built on high rocks. Schult (p.62) calls it a typical Mars city, knowing many periods of heavy fighting. Sardis flourished because of the trade between Ionia and Anatolia. Sardis was also famous for the introduction of the first reliable golden and silver coins. During the reign of King Croesus (595 – 546 BC) metallurgists of Sardis were for the first time able to separate gold from silver, thereby producing both metals of a purity not known before. This was an economic revolution, for in the past nuggets of unknown mixtures of gold and silver were used as currency, known as electrum. But the uncertainty of their purity was a hindrance to trade. As Sardis could mint nearly pure silver and gold coins, their value was trusted throughout the known world. This revolution made Sardis rich and the place where modern currency was invented, while Croesus’ name became synonymous with wealth itself.
In the time of John, Sardis still is an important administrative and trade center where since 500 BC a large Jewish community settled, later followed by Christians. The large economic wealth of the 100,000 inhabitants is probably the reason why the writer of the letter to Sardis calls to the community I know your works, that you have a name that you live, and you are dead. Are they taking seriously enough the possibility to go the way back to the light world?
No earlier developments to be repeated in Sardis
The letter to the community of Sardis brings us into the present cultural period (1400 – 3600). The danger in our cultural period is that we oversleep the new possibility to follow the way back to the light world. We are called to not let extinguish the new fire in us. If we are not awake we will let pass unnoticed our inner encounter with the Christ. That is one of the notions behind the remark that he will come like a thief in the night (Steiner, GA 346, p.75). Our consciousness still resembles in many ways that of the previous period in which we felt our existence clasped between birth and death on Earth. According to Steiner our consciousness of the spiritual world will, however, gradually grow during our cultural period. We have to learn to look beyond the exterior appearances of our fellow-men and notice what lives in their souls. Then we will find that the appearance of the white raiment starts to occur, what means that people are beginning to develop their Manas or higher self. This is the largest goal of human evolution in the fifth cultural period.
Our present cultural period, also called by Steiner the German-Anglo-Saxon period, has the unique quality that no previous epochs or eras have to be repeated. Everything is new in this cultural period, nothing is to be seen as a memory of earlier episodes. Without the continuing impulse and inner contemplation of what Christ has given in the previous period, our cultural period would have been very empty and godless (Steiner, GA 104a, p.99).
The seven Spirits of God
Bock (p.67) notes that the fifth letter has the same opening as the first letter to Ephesus: He that has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. He thinks that this emphasizes the new beginning that has become possible. Schult (p.63) sees in the seven stars the seven angels of the seven communities and the seven archangels of the planets. The seven Spirits of God belong in his eyes to a higher category, they are the seven lights of the Spirit of God, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven creative spirits, the solar Elohim, the seven spirits before God’s throne. Steiner (GA104a, p.100) calls these seven aspects the seven ingredients of which the human being is composed: the physical body, the life forces or etheric body, the feeling or astral body, the I-consciousness which is activated by the coming of the Christ, and three higher more refined bodies of which first only the seeds are present. In Hinduism and theosophy these seeds are called Manas, Buddhi and Atman. They will develop in steps during the coming evolutionary epochs and eras.
Purification of the astral body will lead to the Manas. It requires developing universal understanding and becoming one with the Holy Spirit of divine truth. Sardis is a symbol of this first stage. The following step is symbolized by the next community of Philadelphia, the transformation of the etheric body to Buddhi. This leads to the power to heal by giving love and becoming one with the Son, the Christ. And finally, the physical body is transformed to Atman, the divine spark, symbolized by the community of Laodicea. The divine spark represents the power to create with the creative word and becoming one with the will of the Father god. In that phase man realizes what was meant for her or him at the beginning of creation. Here he will see his Creator from countenance to countenance.
The white garment and the world dominated by money
Schult (p.62) sees how in Sardis Mars forces lead man in the material world where the spirit must die. The mission of man in Sardis is to awaken again the spirit in the world of death. Also Dante refers to this awakening in his Divina Comedia where he makes appear in the middle of the Mars sphere a light giving cross. The downward pulling forces are in particular strong in the financial world, which is especially connected with Sardis as we have seen in the role of king Croesus. Already on 24 June 1908 Steiner showed that the human personality which wants to act in the banking sector is being fragmented. He used the example of the Rothschild family. The first Rothschild’s had a personal connection with the banking activities, but later banking became impersonal. The capital started to represent itself and personal involvement was completely removed from the activities. The personality became powerless.
But in financial matters man should be in the lead again. That is why we are called to turn around our inclination, to keep our self-consciousness awake and to allow no obstruction during the formation of our Manas, described as our white garment, our purified astral body. Schult (p.65) lays also a relationship between the white garment and the parable of the royal wedding in Matthew 22. Only those guests which wear a wedding garment are chosen to sit at the table. This refers to the mystical royal wedding of the soul and the spirit, after the desires are purified by the Holy Spirit. All kind of people are allowed at the wedding table as long as they are open to receive God in their heart.
Schult (p.63-65) describes how intellectual development and self-consciousness have strengthened materialistic interests and weakened spiritual vitality. But this intellectualism is not found … of full value before my God. During the fifth cultural period the divide between knowing and believing must be overcome by spiritual insight that reconciles our knowledge with what we believe. Only the living spiritual idea is a reality that counts for God. And not only perceiving the idea should be strived for but also its realization in the physical world. That requires awaking of our will. Then man in the white garment can persevere in the growing storm of counter-forces. Schult mentions as examples of such individuals Paul, John, Dionysius the Areopagite, Joachim of Fiore, Francisco, Dante, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Jacob Bohme, Novalis, Jakob Lorber, Rudolf Steiner, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Vladimir Solovyov.
Science and spirituality reconnected
Science receives a new impulse from the Renaissance during the cultural period of Sardis. Renaissance is a continuation of the knowledge which entered Europe through Spain by means of Mohammedanism and Arabism. Such science excels in everything based on what is sensory perceptible (Steiner, GA 104a, p.91) and had a strong influence on Francis Bacon and Baruch Spinoza. But such science is not able to exceed what is noticed by the five senses. In earlier days Augustine likewise was unable to perceive wider spheres and as a result Manicheism remained inaccessible to him. The present cultural period mirrors what has been developed in the Egyptian-Chaldean cultural period, but now it is imbued with the Christ impulse, as is reflected in the teachings of the Rosicrucians (Steiner, GA 104a, p.92). The vocation of the fifth cultural period is to find again the spiritual world behind the sensory phenomena and see again the spiritual beings moving through space with as their trails the heavenly bodies of planets and stars.
The hidden connection between the letters to Pergamon and Sardis
Schult (p.71) has characterized Sardis as a Mars and Pergamon as a Venus community. Both planets impact our passions, the human astral body. Mars strengthens our will and Venus purifies and harmonizes our feelings. The true marriage between the two nobel aspects of these two forces transforms the passion-driven soul to the higher Self or Manas. This is reflected in the introductory sentence and the victory promise of the letters to both communities. The third letter to Pergamon mentioned the two-edged sword, the hidden manna, and the white stone with the new name as symbols of the transformed soul, the Manas. In the fifth letter to Sardis the symbols of the Manas are the seven Spirits of God which help transform through the seven archangels of the planets the desire driven human soul, the white garment and the name in the Book of Life.
This is how the hidden connection between the letters to the two communities of Venus and Mars is presented.
Percival and the holy grail
A legend that fits very well with the fifth cultural period is the legend of Percival and the holy grail (Steiner, GA 104a, p.103). After the humble surrender that was required earlier, now the time has come when the human I starts to ask questions. He, which only passively consumes what is presented to him, is no longer able to exceed himself. The self-conscious soul must ask and grow beyond earlier limits, just like Percival had to learn to ask about the secrets of the grail castle. The spiritual movement of the Rosicrucians for example is nowadays bringing a wisdom which is directly perceived in the spiritual world. In this way man becomes a living receiver of what has been revealed by Jahveh-Christ to Moses and Paul.
The wisdom of the fifth cultural period will flourish as a flower of love in the sixth period of Philadelphia.